NEPAL MUST BE INTERVENTIONIST IN ADDRESSING SEXUAL EXPLOITATION AND TRAFFICKING, WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD19990615
Committee Continues Consideration of Nepal's Compliance With Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
Nepal must be interventionist in addressing sexual exploitation and trafficking, which were contemporary forms of slavery, an expert member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said this afternoon.
The Committee was discussing the situation of women in Nepal, as part of its review of States parties compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Experts stressed that among the myriad concerns involved with inter-State trafficking and abduction, there were health issues such as HIV/AIDS infection.
What was happening to girls taken across borders and now waiting in camps to be repatriated? an expert asked. What was being done to give relief to the families whose daughters were abducted or missing? Evidence suggested that some girls were taken across borders as child brides, an expert said. Early marriage itself posed health risks to girls, since maternal mortality increased for young mothers.
Did the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) draft convention on trafficking in women and girls contain provisions related to bilateral cooperation? Nepal's delegation was asked.
Was the carpet industry -- a primary employer of girls aged 16 to 18 -- required to grant access to education and to have other social intervention programmes? an expert asked. Initiatives were under way regarding very young labourers, she said, but were those older teens legally protected regarding violence, sexual harassment and health? she asked.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a - Press Release WOM/1137 435th Meeting (PM) 26 June 1999
Nepal was urged to examine the Committee's general recommendation on health, in order to formulate a proactive policy on health. The general recommendation said States parties should prioritize the prevention of unwanted pregnancy through family planning services and education, and the reduction of maternal mortality rates through safe motherhood and prenatal services.
Nepal's rate of maternal mortality was extremely high, yet the Committee had been told that facilities were available for women, an expert noted. Were women from all groups in Nepal's multi-ethnic society taking advantage of available services? States parties must ensure the right to health of all women living within their jurisdiction, she stressed.
Nepal's nationality laws contravened the Women's Anti- Discrimination Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an expert said. Unmarried single mothers were not entitled to register their children, another noted. What was the fate of those unregistered persons? she asked. Did they exist legally? Were they entitled to education, health services and political participation?
The Secretary of Nepal's Ministry of Law and Justice, Terth Man Shakya, said the Committee's comments would give Nepal new direction in its thinking. He would respond to questions Friday.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 17 June, when it is to take up Spain's third and fourth reports.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 2 - Press Release WOM/1137 435th Meeting (PM) 15 June 1999
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the initial report of Nepal (document CEDAW/C/NPL/1), submitted under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. (For background on the report, see Press Release WOM/1136 issued this morning.)
Experts Comments on Specific Articles
With regard to article 6, an expert stated that it was important for the Government to recognize that prostitution and trafficking in women was a temporary form of slavery. The practice of prostitution related to custom underlined and reinforced the modern manifestation of the sexual exploitation of girls. The Government needed an interventionist policy in addressing the issue. Inter-State trafficking also had health risks associated with it, such as AIDS. The abduction of girls and women meant that their right to personal security was being violated. She asked what was being done to give relief to the families whose daughters had been abducted.
There was evidence to suggest that girls were taken across borders as child brides, she added. Connected to the problem of cross-border trafficking and abduction was the lack of opportunities to education. What was happening to girls taken across borders who now were waiting in camps to be repatriated? she asked. Did the new South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) draft convention on trafficking in women and girls contain any provisions related to bilateral cooperation on the issue?
Turning to the issue of nationality, an expert noted that under Nepalese law, unmarried single mothers were not entitled to register their children. That was in clear violation of article 9 of the Convention. She wanted to know what was being done to rectify that situation. Moreover, what was the fate of those unregistered persons? Did they not exist legally? Were they not entitled to education, health services, political participation, and the enjoyment of all human rights? She wanted to know how many unregistered persons Nepal had, and whether there were any differences between girls and boys.
With regard to article 10, an expert said that the basic and primary education programme launched in 1992 was a good step forward to promoting education for women, which was very important for the country's development. She asked what percentage of the national budget was allocated to education, and particularly to that programme, since it had begun in 1992. Also, was that programme targeted towards the revision of textbooks? Furthermore, what steps were being taken under the programme to promote girls enrolment in rural areas? Another expert was concerned about the high rate of illiteracy among women in Nepal. One of the objectives in the national work plan was to make all women literate, and by the end of the Ninth Plan to have a literacy rate of 50 per cent. However, in 1998 the rate had only been 28 per cent. That low rate of literacy was below the national rate of 38.6 per cent. A low level of education was a hindrance to any efforts to develop training programmes for women and to projects related to the advancement of rural women. She asked for more information on the state of free or compulsory education.
She had two concerns regarding Nepal's Eighth Plan, she said. First, one of the objectives was to implement equal access to education for women and girls. However, many girls dropped out to help with household chores and with younger children. Thus, she wanted to know how the Government would implement that equal access in light of such factors. The second area was the provision of free textbooks for girls up to the fifth grade. Did that mean that compulsory education was only till the fifth grade? she asked. Also, who was responsible for writing and editing those textbooks? Were they people with gender perspectives? It was important to counter stereotyping and patriarchal attitudes.
While the report had figures for primary and secondary levels of women's enrolment, it did not have any for higher education, she continued. Higher education was the prerequisite for women advancing into decision-making levels. She asked what the ratio of women studying in institutions of higher learning was. Also, what were their major areas of study, and did they access to areas such as science and technology?
Even in traditional jobs, such as teaching, women only made up 10 per cent of the total, which was very unusual, she added. Were there any incentives available to teachers taking jobs in rural areas? Also, were there any attempts to encourage women to go into non-traditional jobs and careers, by way of counselling and career development services and financial assistance?
Another expert said education was essential for girls and women to know and fight for their legal rights, and to get out of poverty. Was primary school mandatory? she asked. If not, it was not surprising that more boys attended than girls. Was school free? If not, girls tended to lose out. On the report's mention of appointing at least one female teacher per school, she said that was an important issue, but she did not see the link between that and increasing girls' enrolment. Information was needed on private schools, and who attended them.
Nepal's nationality laws contravened the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an expert said. Nepal's 1963 Constitution had been in line with international standards. Why had that changed in the 1990 Constitution? she asked. Nepal legislated minimum numbers of women in national Parliament and in each parties' candidates, which had increased women's participation, an expert noted. Also, seats were reserved for women at the lowest level of local administration. Were there such provisions for the intermediate and regional levels? In developing countries, Government was often the largest employer, so women's participation in decision-making positions must begin in the public sector. Despite the low level of education, there were an adequate number of women who could participate if jobs were reserved for them in public administration and not just at the lowest level. What was the outcome of the administrative reform commission -- had its recommendations been implemented to give women more visibility in the public service?
Turning then to discrimination in employment, she noted that women were responsible for 50 per cent of household income, but that their representation in the total labour force remained almost stagnant from 1981 to 1991. An overwhelmingly large number of women were engaged in agriculture, and they worked very long hours; since arable land per capita was small in Nepal, those women probably had to do intensive manual labour and intensive cultivation. Had any attempt been made to modernize agriculture or introduce appropriate technology? she asked. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had helped many developing countries in South Asia in that regard.
Regarding land ownership, she said she wanted to know whether women could own agricultural land. What were the provisions of the 1992 Labour Act regarding women? How many women had received training from skills-development centres? Was any credit programme linked with such training? Was there legislation on equal pay, and did it cover agriculture?
An expert asked about employment of girls aged 16 to 18 who worked largely in home-based industries and the carpet industry. Were they legally protected regarding health, violence and sexual harassment? Initiatives in child labour had been made in the carpet industry -- did that also apply to girls in that older age group? Were employers required to have some social intervention programmes, such as giving access to education?
There were numerous concerns regarding article 12, discrimination in health, an expert said. Those included low life expectancy, high maternal mortality rates, a high number of unattended births, and the issue of illegal abortion.
The Committee had formulated a general recommendation on women's rights in relation to health, through which it made general statements regarding its understanding of rights and States parties obligations, she said. Paragraph 14 of the general recommendation was pertinent to the recent attempt to amend the abortion law. That paragraph said States parties should not restrict women's access to health services on the ground that they required spousal consent. A law allowing abortion only with spousal consent was not compliant with the Convention. The bill to amend the abortion law had not allowed access of unmarried women to abortion, and that again would have been a failure to comply with the Convention.
The recommendation also made constructive suggestions on how to deal with violence against women from the health perspective, she continued. That included formulating health-care protocols to treat survivors of sexual abuse and other violence. It would also involve gender-sensitive training of health-care workers to identify such violence.
Early marriage was a related issue, since it was detrimental to women's health, she continued. Regarding HIV/AIDS, including among women and girls who had been trafficked, she noted a document distributed in the room on the national plan of action against trafficking in children and their commercial exploitation. It mentioned that there should be quarantine-like residential services for the rescued victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. Affected people would be kept isolated until their health status was confirmed. But that violated the human right of freedom of movement, she said. There was no need to deny liberty and movement to persons affected by HIV/AIDS.
The general recommendation asked States parties to pay special attention to vulnerable groups, including refugees, she said. Refugees from Bhutan and Tibet were entitled to health services and the rights guaranteed under the Convention. The general recommendation would be helpful for Nepal in formulating a proactive policy on health. It also said that States parties should prioritize the prevention of unwanted pregnancy through family planning services and education, and the reduction of maternal mortality rates through safe motherhood and prenatal services
The report stated that women in Nepal did not face discrimination in the area of health, an expert pointed out. That was a very misleading statement, which showed that the State did not recognize what constituted indirect discrimination. When women were dying in the exercise of their reproductive rights, that was discrimination. She strongly recommended that the Government make use of the Committee's general recommendation 24 on health, which gave details on what should be done by the Government to ensure that there was no discrimination in the health sector.
Also, the report stated that pregnant women had adequate nutrition in the pre- and post-natal periods, and, at the same time, anaemia was very high. Those statements were contradictory. It was a pity that the Committee had not been given information on why anaemia was so high among women in Nepal. In addition, while the Government stated that safe motherhood was a priority, that must be taken in a holistic manner, which included infrastructure. If clinics were available, but not accessible, then women would not benefit. The lack of transportation and bad roads were among the reasons why rural women did not take efforts to access health-care services, and thereby put their lives at risk. She said that maternal mortality was high despite the fact that facilitates were available. She wanted to know whether all women in Nepal really had assistance during delivery, and whether all women took advantage of the few facilities available. It was possible, since Nepal was a multi-ethnic society, that there were groups that did not take advantage of services during delivery. The Convention stated that State parties had to ensure the right to health of all women living within their jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, she added, the report did not contain information on the mental-health situation of women. With women in Nepal having to deal with serious problems such as poverty, she wanted to know the mental situation of those women. For example, did they suffer from depression? she asked. There was also a lack of information on substance abuse, including tobacco consumption.
With regard to abortion, she asked whether the country's abortion law made any distinction between abortion and miscarriage. Another expert said that the abortion laws subjected women who were victims of violence and rape to a pregnancy. They were draconian laws from the colonial era and had to be reassessed. She wanted information on the impact of such strict abortion laws. Was there a problem of infanticide and abandonment, and did the State provide assistance to women to provide for their child? Also, she said that the issues of child marriage and abortion should be viewed as health issues.
Turning to the rights of rural women, who made up the majority of women in Nepal, an expert noted that the Government had made a lot of effort to enhance the status of those women, including loan and training programmes. She wanted to know whether the Government had a general plan for the advancement of rural women with specific goals. Were there any programmes to reduce maternal mortality rates and increase literacy rates among rural women?
Also, with several projects under way, the Government had allocated resources to village committees and to all members of Parliament, she added. How were those funds being used and what was their impact? she asked. Were they used specifically for the benefit of women? Did the Government have much success with their micro-credit programmes, and were they being extended to other sectors of society? In addition, in rural areas, there were traditional norms and customs which clearly violated the human rights and dignity of women. What was the Ministry of Women doing to combat such traditional practices?
With regard to article 16, an expert said it was more than clear that the Government had to take meaningful and substantial measures to eliminate discrimination by repealing discriminatory laws. Another expert said that there were contradictions in the family laws. One the one hand, it said that women had rights to certain property, but then. on the other hand, it restricted women's rights to inheritance. There had to be consistency in the legislation. Also, if registration of marriage was not compulsory, then how would the Government enforce laws, such as those on the minimum age for marriage? she asked. Further, there had to be the same grounds for both men and women for obtaining a divorce.
Another expert wondered what kind of support or alimony the wife was entitled to after the divorce and whether she was entitled to it immediately. Also, in the case of divorce, who received custody of the children?
On the issue of polygamy, one expert said that while it was illegal, it was widely pervasive in Nepal. She wanted to know if there were any surveys or research done on the issue.
Dowry was prevalent in South Asia, she noted. India and Bangladesh had dowry prohibition acts, which had been important instruments for women to claim their rights. She wanted to know whether Nepal had such an act or planned to enact one. Also, were different castes governed by their own customary laws, or was there a uniform law applicable to all ethnic and religious groups?
TERTH MAN SHAKYA, Secretary of Nepal's Ministry of Law and Justice, thanked the Committee for raising so many issues. Their questions and comments would give Nepal new direction in its thinking. He would respond to questions as scheduled on Friday.
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